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PG&E Wildfire Safety Zone for Power Transmission Lines

MIXED REVIEWS - PG&E Clearing the Path for Power

Aug 2, 2019


Vegetation Removal for Wildfire Safety Under Scrutiny

All across the state, PG&E is sending out crews to remove trees in large swathes under power lines. In neighborhoods, tree inspectors are tagging trees for trimming and removal. What used to be a required 18” clearance has become a 4-foot to 12-foot clearance since fires raged across our state and electric power lines have been identified as a source for several of these fires.

With thousands of acres of forest at risk, homes and lives lost, and thousands of people‘s lives disrupted or destroyed, you’d think people would be supportive of these efforts to prevent future fires. But many are not happy and are adamantly complaining. Property owners are reporting that tree crews are coming through neighborhoods without warning, advance notice, documentation, or permits. Most disturbing are parcels of land with absentee owners who don’t have a clue trees are being removed until a neighbor alerts them to the activity.

Last month the Gazette ran an article by Tim McKusick of Timber Cove on the vast acreage of land where PG&E power lines are going through unmanaged private land. The fire risk has local citizens alarmed. Sudden Oak Death has claimed the lives of many trees and their dead carcasses remain mixed among power lines. (The message is clear: Fire Season is Upon Us.)

Fear of fire has communities in these coastal forests fearful for good reason. Thousands of acres of forest no longer are subject to cleaning fires because homes and businesses are scattered throughout the hills and fires are contained instead used for forest management.

So how do we reconcile this fear with the concern and outrage over tree trimming and removal?

One of the major complaints has been lack of notice in advance so that property owners can contact PG&E before removal starts on their property. Another issue is with easements. Who owns those easements and did people unknowingly offer easements to PG&E without realizing the consequences?

Years ago PG&E sent out requests for access easements to property owners who have power poles on their land and power lines running pole to pole. Most people thought nothing of it. Why not?

Now that fire has become commonplace and many property owners are not managing their vegetation, PG&E is taking the responsibility for trimming and tree removal. For them, it makes sense to reduce their liability. For property owners, it’s shocking and permanently alters where they live.

PG&E marked trees for removal near power linesWhen inspectors come by to tag trees, they either tag them with color paint or put plastic ribbon tags near where work is to be done.

PG&E uses pink, white and yellow markings on trees in Sonoma County. An X means marked for removal, a dot means trimming needs to be done. We have also seen bright green painted dots on trees. According to one reader, when trees are within riparian corridors they do not use paint.

For some people, this feels like a financial advantage since tree services are expensive. But keep in mind that PG&E only clears the path for power lines. If your lines are thick, chances are they are communication lines, not power lines, which are thin. If the tree company coming by leaves piles of debris, contact PG&E to make them aware of the fire-hazard left behind. Depending on the crew doing the work, some are better than others around cleaning up after themselves.

McPherson PG&E Safety Zone Comparison

Automatic Shut-Off of Power Grids

Then we come to the issue of power outages. In several communities, PG&E installed automatic shut-off devices so that they didn’t need to take the time to send a crew out to climb poles in an emergency. They still need to shut off gas lines and the tricky part of that is turning them back on. The last time PG&E turned off Natural Gas to fix a problem, they sent crews out to turn the gas back on building to building. Electricity is a lot easier.

This is a topic that has not been resolved yet in terms of how people can ride this power outage wave. For people whose lives are dependent upon electricity for life-support systems, generators and solar/wind may not be enough. It’s easy to keep bottled water in a freezer to keep the refrigerator cold for a few days, but life-support systems require a far more complicated power system.

Until power lines go underground and alternative power systems are commonplace, we are dependent upon this state-wide power grid, so learning to live with the consequences and taking tasks into our own hands is the only way to control the consequences of potential emergencies.

Neighborhood Groups for Preparedness 

Just as COPE (Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies), MYN (Map Your Neighborhood) and Fire-Safe groups are taking care of their own homes and each other. That kind of thinking can benefit people who are feeling helpless in the face of PG&E Vegetation Management.

Rake, rake, and rake again. Sweep your roof, clean your gutters, trim your trees...all of these things keep fire risk as low as humanly possible.

But it’s the neighborhood groups who expand emergency preparedness to support individuals who cannot take care of their own needs. Elderly people, infirm people, people with small children, people with no skills for this type of work are all dependent upon either PG&E, Fire departments, governments or each other.

While you are forming your own groups, here is some information to answer questions about PG&E’s Vegetation Management practices. Until we have underground power and until years of deferred maintenance is brought current, we really need to put risk-management in our own hands if we want to protect our homes, our families, and our friends.

Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies (COPE)

About COPE:

Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies (COPE), was started by residents of the Santa Rose Community of Oakmont, in cooperation with the Santa Rosa Fire Department and the American Red Cross.

The Santa Rosa Fire Department encourages our spirited citizens within our community to take the initiative to train and prepare with their neighbors. Taking these steps, we can all COPE a little better with disasters that may disrupt our lives such as earthquake, fire, flood, landslide and other natural and man-made emergencies.

he mission of COPE is to encourage residents, families, and neighborhoods to become and remain better prepared to respond to and recover from emergency situations. This includes developing individual response plans, maintaining individual emergency supply kits, and neighbors getting to know and plan with other neighbors in their community.

The information we've provided here for you on our webpage is intended to promote emergency preparedness and neighborhood communication. We hope you find it useful and encourage you to reach out to us if there's any other information you'd like made available to you.

Get to Know Your Neighbors

Learn how to develop COPE Neighborhood Teams and conduct your own COPE Neighborhood Meetings.

Make an Emergency Plan

View steps for creating and practicing your own household emergency plan.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

All citizens should have some basic supplies on hand in order for a family to survive if an emergency occurs. The emergency supply kit should be robust and contain enough food, water, medications and other consumables to last seven to ten days.

Be Informed

It is important to be aware of what hazards may impact your community. There are many ways to be aware and stay informed of what is happening in the community.

Be Involved

Find out what you can do to help your community recover from all kinds of emergencies.

Map Your Neighborhood (MYN)

Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) is a unique program designed to help neighborhoods prepare for disasters. When a crisis occurs, those closest to you may be your greatest help. Emergency personnel will likely not be available to immediately assist your area. Being prepared and taking the right course of action within the first few minutes and hours after a disaster may help protect and save lives.

The Map Your Neighborhood program walks you and your neighbors through a simple step-by-step process to customize an emergency preparedness plan for your area.

How to get started

A wonderful benefit of the Map Your Neighborhood program is that it’s a great way to get to know or reconnect with your neighbors. You’ll be working together and learning how to protect your families, friends and property.

A peer-led program, we ask interested neighborhood leaders or residents to attend A Leaders Training Session, provided for free by the Sebastopol Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). During this session you will learn how to organize and conduct a neighborhood meeting. A training DVD, detailed brochure and map of your neighborhood will be provided. Leaders are encouraged to limit the size of their neighborhood “group” to 15 to 20 households. Limiting the number of households helps maintain effective communication.

After completing the Leaders Training Session, neighborhood representatives are requested to schedule their Neighborhood Meeting within the following 90 days.

During the neighborhood meeting participants will:

Learn the “9 Steps to Take Immediately Following a Disaster”.

Identify the skills and equipment each neighbor has that would be useful in a disaster response.

Create a Neighborhood Map (provided by Sebastopol CERT) identifying the location of the gas, electric and water shut offs.

Create a contact list to help identify those with functional needs (ex. seniors, children).

Learn how to work together as a team to evaluate your neighborhood during the first hour following a disaster.

We never know when a disaster may strike, but we do know that being prepared is the first step toward a better outcome. The first hour following a disaster is critical for survivors. The Map Your Neighborhood Program provides the resources needed to make neighborhoods ready for any disaster.

For further information, or to be added to our MYN Training email list, email

Map Your Neighborhood (MYN):


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